It will not be incorrect to state that motorcycle helmets are, most probably, the single most important gear of safety when riding a motor bike.
It is common knowledge and something that we get to hear very frequently that helmets routinely save 1000s of lives every year (if not more), or could have saved countless lives world over, if riders would have worn them, subsequent to an accident.
Regardless of the fact whether the region you live in require you to wear a helmet when riding a motorcycle, you should do so in any case, as nothing is more important than your safety and eventually your life. As the saying goes: ‘All the gear, all the time’.
There is a lot more focus and attention now on helmets weight, safety, and aesthetics. No matter which model you purchase, always ensure that the helmet you choose is a good fit for your head from all perspectives – safety, comfort, color, styles and design.
Helmet manufacturing has come a long way, and as part of that process, different types of materials have been tested and used in making these helmets. These helmets are also available in varying sizes to suit different types of riders. Having said that, not every manufacturer’s size will be the same, so it is best to buy a helmet that corresponds with the rider’s head size (exact measurements), particularly when you are buying it online or as a gift item.
This guide aims to educate you regarding the different kinds of helmets that you can purchase from the market, their pros and cons, safety aspects, comfort and ventilation, and other specific usages, with regards to the multiple terrains where you can use them.
Motorcycle Helmet Types
There is no such thing as one best style or type of motorcycle helmet. If that was the case, then you wouldn’t find the multiple varieties and options that are available in the market today. Every type of helmet has its positives and weaknesses. The most appropriate type of helmet will depend upon your needs and requirement as a rider.
Here we will consider the different types of motorcycle helmets that are most commonly found around us. This will give you an idea of what they are, and their corresponding purposes, features and functionalities.
The full face bike helmet is meant to provide the rider with the maximum coverage around the head and neck region, and because of that, they are meant to be the safest motorcycle helmet that you can choose, to protect yourself from potential injury and impact post an accident. One of the prominent features of this helmet is the chin bar that acts as an important safety feature that you do not generally find in other helmets. As per a study on damages and injuries caused to motorcyclists wearing helmets, it is the chin area that receives 50% of the harshest impact. The best protection to your chin and jaw is only offered by a full-face helmet.
This helmet is diversely used by different types of riders, driving all types of motorbikes. Depending on the type of riding you choose, a full-face helmet can suit a variety of these situations. For example, sports riders who usually ride in a crouched position, opt for a helmet with high chin bar as well as a visor that is angled towards the top part of the helmet, preventing them from lifting when traveling at fast speeds. On the contrary, tourers, cruisers, and thrill riders usually ride in an upright position, and hence need a lower chin bar and a simpler and directed visor opening.
By and large, these full-face helmets have a ventilation system so the sweat can circulate and evaporate out of the helmet and minimize fogging to the visor. This, in turn, helps the biker to remain cool and calm. This ventilation can be closed during the winter months, to retain the air within the helmet.
These helmets have evolved with the passage of time and advent of newer technologies and can now be bought with options such as bluetooth speakers, bright and reflective colors for better visibility, and tinted and UV protected visors.
This is your safest bet in case of a crash, and a simple and effective gear to have. You can also keep the bugs, excessive wind and debris at bay during your rides.
Flip-up or Modular Helmet
Modular helmets that are also commonly called the flip-up helmets, can be seen as a hybrid between a ¾ helmet and a full-face helmet. This is because the chin bar and visor can be opened by flipping it up through the front of the helmet. It has the same materials and items that are used for manufacturing a full-face helmet. They feature a visor to protect the rider’s eyes, and in some models, may also contain a secondary internal visor for added optic protection from the UV rays.
These helmets are slightly heavier than the traditional full-face helmet that is attributable to the added design hinge features found in the flip-up front area. This hinge structure slightly reduces the safety element due to a minor fissure (as opposed to a uniform entity of a full-face version). However, its added chin protection certainly provides more safety versus the ¾ or ½ helmet.
The flip-up helmet is ideal for tourers, cruisers, and adventure riders, who generally adopt an upright riding position. The optic views are straightforward and the chin bar rests lower on your face. This type of modular helmet has also evolved and includes Bluetooth speakers, dual visor system and anti-fogging coating on its primary visor.
Open Face Helmets
Open face helmets are also called ¾ helmet, as they are designed to provide protection and cover to the top back and sides of rider’s head, leaving the full frontal of the face exposed. They are renowned amongst scooter drivers, cafe racers, tourers, and cruisers, who like to feel the wind on their face as they drive. There is no chin bar in a ¾ helmet, and this understandably reduces the safety of the driver in a significant way.
These open face helmets are structurally quite similar to a full-face helmet, and to the extent they cover the part of the head, the protection level is the same as a full face helmet. Since it has lesser coverage and no chin bar, it is comparatively lighter than its counterparts. Another downside of this helmet’s open design is that you are not fully protected against inclement or poor weather conditions or the flying debris on the road. They come with the option of partial or full-face visors for eyes protection as well as your face from the harsh UV rays. Alternatively, you can also purchase these visors separately if you wish.
Despite its compromise on the safety aspect, these open-face helmets (either half or three-quarter shell) do have some merits too. For example, they offer a much better and unobstructed visibility, better air flow, and freedom to move your head and face easily, without the burden of added weight of a face shield.
Half helmets, as the name suggests, will cover the top portion of your head only (from forehead to the brows) and will have minimal lids, and for such reason, will provide reduced protection. Some of the models will have some added coverage on the nape of your neck and ears, whilst leaving the remaining face exposed.
This helmet (which can also be DOT approved) offers amazing airflow but at the cost of significantly less protection as compared to full face or ¾ helmet. The impact resistance feature is also another weak aspect.
A vast majority of half helmets do not have a visor or face shield, and for that reason, you need to buy eye protection separately – such as bandannas, riding glasses or goggles. The do not provide much technological features or upgrade options (such as Bluetooth speakers), due to lack of space on the helmet.
They’re a popular choice amongst cruiser and vintage riders (as you may have seen some Harley-Davidson riders wearing them). They are also a common option for a lot of naked bikes and streetfighter styles rides such as – Ducati Monsters, BMW S1000Rs, and Kawasaki Z1000s.
They are also known as brain buckets and people often associate it with biking freedom. What it does provide the rider (like no other helmet does) is the great air flow and the lightweight.
Dirt Bike Helmets
These helmets are different from street-riding helmets as they have a longer visor and chin guard for added protection from sun rays and trail hazards such as branches and debris flying around. The open-face models have enough space to accommodate goggles for eye protection from dirt, as there is no in-built optic protection. Its functionalities also include lighter weight, scratch-resistant exterior (as protection from pesky debris) and higher ventilation (due to the accentuated chin bar) during rough and tough biking conditions during hotter months. You shouldn’t expect modern features like Bluetooth speakers.
As the name suggests, off-road helmets are designed for dirt roads (as opposed to streets). For such reason, these helmets are not recommended for city and highway purposes, and ideal for use in conditions that require knobby tires.
There are several composite options to choose from when it comes to the material, such as, fiberglass, Kevlar, and carbon fiber. All of them are sturdy and long lasting and due to their light weight, they do not pose much of a burden on your neck or head after long riding days.
You should always try this helmet out to ensure it is a comfortable fit, particularly if you plan to use it with added gear such as goggle (they should seal your eyes), body armor or a neck brace.
Dual Sport Helmets
This helmet is designed for the riders who like to switch between on- and off-road, and hence, is a true multi-purpose gear. They offer aerodynamic features of street-riding bike helmets coupled with the durability afforded by an off-road dome. These helmets are versatile as you can remove its parts, have wider visors, and ample space to fit in the goggles – allowing you to use it in multiple riding conditions.
They are seen as a hybrid between an off-road helmet and a full-face helmet. The exterior is quite akin to an off-road helmet (large visor and lower chin bar), but at the same time, provides the rider with added interior padding and great comfort that you would expect from a full-face helmet.
The truncated chin bar is not as extended as you would find in an off-road helmet, and this provides much improved soundproofing but not much airflow. For this reason, this helmet can be an ideal option when you are riding on different terrains during the same day.
A motorcycle helmet has been in a constant state of evolution to keep abreast with the technological advancements, including light-weight materials (so there is less strain on the neck and head), added padding (for rider’s comfort), Bluetooth speakers (for connectivity to the ever-increasing smartphones and navigational use, music or hands-free calls), and so on and so forth.
Despite these advancement in innovative features, these helmets haven’t changed their basic structure and make for several decades. A motorcycle helmet consists of four main components namely: the outer shell, liner for impact absorption, comfort layer for padding, and finally, the retention system or the chin strap. All these aspects have their designated functions and purpose, and holistically aim to protect the rider by keeping their heads and neck region safe whilst riding a motorbike.
The outer shell, as the name suggests, is the outermost, colored region of the helmet that is visible to you and others, and quite rigidly made.
It is generally made from Kevlar, carbon fiber, polycarbonate, molded plastics, or a mixture of these materials. It primarily aims to protect the rider’s head in the untoward event of abrasion or impact, or from external objects and hazards, from penetrating the helmet.
Face Shield or Visor
The face shield or visor is a safety mechanism that blocks the bugs, debris, and other hazards out of the helmet. They are removable pieces so you can take them out to clean or to replace them with a new one when required. You can buy them in multiple colors and tints to suit various types of riding terrains. You should always keep the visor clean, as you see the roads and surroundings through, and it may be difficult to do so if they are dirty or obstructed, particularly in bad light.
Impact Absorbing Liner
On the inner region of the outer shell, you will find the impact-absorbing liner. It is usually constructed from EPS (expanded polystyrene) foam that helps in absorbing shock, and distributing the energy from the impact and lessening the injury to the head. The layering of the foam may vary from model to model. Some may have single density foam, while other helmets may provide a dual-density layer (which consists of two combined layers) for maximum energy displacement in case of an impact.
Padded Comfort Layer
The padded comfort layer is the resting space for your head when you wear the helmet. It is usually made from an open-cell foam which in turn is covered in another cloth material, to ensure that sweat is evaporated easily from the skin, keeping you cool and dry whilst riding. This padded layer is normally removable so you can clean it and re-use it. It can also be replaced or swapped for a new one to accommodate different sizes of head. It is always a prudent idea to check with you supplier or salesperson whether they have a variety of these comfort liner shapes, and then trying them out to ensure that you opt for the best fit for yourself.
The chin strap that is also interchangeably known as helmet retention system is a security feature below your chin, to ensure that the helmet stays firmly in place (your head) whilst you ride or during an unforeseen accident.
It is constructed out of a woven material and put together with the help of two d-rings to stay in place. When you fasten it, the ideal chin strap locking will only allow two fingers to pass through between your chin and the strap. There shouldn’t be any gaps around your head region. Similarly, the helmet shouldn’t be too tight either so it makes you uncomfortable and distracted, which would be counterintuitive.
The strap (like comfort liner) is also partially covered with a special cloth that helps with the wicking of sweat and general comfort, as the strap remains fastened for long periods of time.
Cheek pads can be found inside the full-face and ¾ helmets, and (as the name suggests), lets you rest your cheeks against it. These pads can be easily removed so you can keep them clean for hygiene purposes, as well as accommodate different types of head sizes. They provide additional comfort and protection to the rider’s face, similar to what padded comfort liner does. They also assist with keeping the helmet intact on your head during the rides.
The ventilation system is an important feature of a helmet as it keeps the airflow in circulation (by evaporating the sweat) and that, in turn, keeps the rider’s head cool and calm. This feature is more commonly found in full face and ¾ helmets, but may also be an option in other types as well, depending on the manufacturer and the model.
A lot of these vents will afford the rider with an option to open or close it, to accord with the varying weather conditions and comfort of the rider.
These vents can be fully open during colder months, fully closed in summer months and partially open at other times when you need to strike a balance between warm and cold. They are fully adjustable and hence every rider can use it according to their needs and requirements.
Helmet Safety Standards
As part of your helmet purchase, you also need to inquire and establish that the specific motorcycle helmet also satisfies the safety standards prescribed for such helmets.
By way of example, in the United States, a D.O.T. (Department of Transportation) compliant helmet is a legal requirement for every rider in the different states of USA. In fact, you cannot even legally sell a helmet unless it has the DOT certification. You will find similar regulatory requirements in other parts of the world as well – whether a regulator certification or an expert 3rd party one.
These certifications, with slight variations, will most likely be testing every helmet on similar standards – i.e. standards that either meet or exceed the values prescribed for impact forces, energy distribution, and head protection relating to retention.
Every time you are buying a helmet, always ensure that it has a safety certification, as per the relevant regulator of the state or region you intend to ride the bike in. DOT, ECE and Snell are some of the examples.
Do not buy a helmet for its aesthetics or comfort only. Always bear in mind related important factors such as the prevalent or relevant season for which you will be using it, type of terrain you plan to ride in, and the features and functionalities of the helmet as they relate to you and your requirements.
Never buy a helmet without trying it so as to cause and ensure that it is ‘fit for purpose’ (in terms of adjusting and sitting around your face and to accommodate any additional gear that you may be using with it), and you are generally comfortable wearing it.
Helmets are undoubtedly the most important piece of safety gear for any motorbike rider, and you should never compromise on your safety. Choose it wisely, wear it without fail, and enjoy the ride!